December 31, 2010

The Best Craft Beer Art of 2010

Well, it's the end of the first calendar year of Pour Curating, and the end of the year means the promised rundown of the "Best of 2010" post.

As with all things, there is too much great art to really make from one post. I decided to limit myself to highlighting three artists, taking the readers' poll into account as an incentive for places to get out the vote next year.

Stacey George - Clown Shoes Brewing

Winning the readers' poll with 67% of the 237 votes cast, Stacey George's design of Clown Shoes art was a big hit with readers. This was a particularly interesting case, because we also got to see George redesign one label to fit with the brewery's oeuvre.

Stacey sent me some of her new work, including this awesome piece:
Yeah, they named a beer Tramp Stamp. I love it. And, just when you think there aren't any clown shoes, we can look closer at the tattoo:
Okay, so we've talked a lot this year about masculinity and femininity in beer art. So it probably makes me a bit of  pig to say the woman in this illustration is pretty hot... but she's hot. And the tramp stamp gives her just that little bit of trashiness. To be honest, George has a real talent for depicting eye candy of both genders (see the Eagle Claw Fist guy above, or the Brown Angel figure). Yes, I'm a pig. But the larger point is that the art is excellent, amusing, tongue-in-cheek, and eye-catching. In short, it's all of the things that make George's Clown Shoes artwork some of the best of the year.

Ezra Johnson-Greenough aka Samurai Artist - Upright Brewing

One of the first posts I did was on Samurai Artist's label for Upright's Four Play label (it's the one with the nipple), and even though I only looked at two of his labels this year, I think the work was some of the best I saw. For one thing, look at the range displayed by just the two labels: We have an all-digital work of bright colors, butterflies and sensuality, and a hand-drawn work of autumn colors, leaves and an intricately rendered hand. That's talent. I just wish we could get Upright's beers in PA.

For those of you who don't know, Samurai Artist's blog The New School is one of the most read beer blogs (#5 on Wikio's December rankings), with multiple excellent authors. They focus on the Portland-area craft beer scene, but cover a number of different topics and are a must-read for craft beer readers.

Lee Verzosa - Stillwater Artisan Ales
Finishing a relatively close second in the readers' poll, tattoo artists Lee Verzosa's artwork was certainly one of the better arrivals to the craft beer art scene. Using intricate lines, a variety of skillfully muted color palettes, and a sense of history-steeped imagery, Verzosa's labels were consistently beautiful, dynamic and the type of art one can look at for a long time, over and over again. Verzosa is maybe the best of the beer tattoo artists, which represent a decent presence in the niche. Perhaps that is because working on confined areas of flesh builds artistic skills that are useful for working in the relatively confined area of labels. Whatever the reason, Verzosa's art shows us how well ability on one canvas can translate to another.


Okay, those are the three craft beer artists I (and you) chose as the best of the year. There were plenty more I could have highlighted, and there are probably many I missed. If you're a brewery or artist and think you got shafted... well, my apologies. Post a comment, add me to your d-list, and make sure I know about the great work you're doing. If you're just a craft beer or design fan and think I missed something, chime in and tell everyone.

Thanks from this Pour Curator to everyone who's commented, voted, or read a post on this blog this year. I've had a great time, and I'm looking forward to more great beer art in 2011.

Updated: It took me a full year to realize that I originally jumped a year into the future on the title of this post.

December 30, 2010

Some Quick Pennsylvania Brewery Label Art Updates

I'll get in a few quick PA brewery labels before tomorrow's "Best of 2011" post.

First, a while back Victory changed the name and art of their "Yakima Twilight" to "Yakima Glory":
From Beersage:  
Victory Brewing has changed the name of Yakima Twilight to Yakima Glory. From what we’ve seen over the past year, there’s normally a second brewery (and lots of contention) involved in these things. The brewery won’t say what’s behind the change though I believe (I’m speculating) that this case is no different from the others. A quick search through the TESS database shows that Deschutes Brewery has a trademark for Twilight Ale. Coincidence? Whatever led to the change, it looks like things were resolved behind quietly behind closed doors. More importantly, regardless of what the label says, the beer will be in stores in November.
What he said. Intellectual property is a bigger and bigger deal in craft beer, and it looks like this one was resolved amicably (if there was actually a dispute). I'm sure I'll have a lot more of this stuff to write about next year.

The label didn't change except for the name, but since we're looking at it: Typically excellent design by Victory. Radiating complementary waves around a hop, with smooth green outlines. Lots of movement, but everything's easy to read and the label suggests the soft, strong malty character of the beer.

More victory, this time with the barrel-aged version of their Storm King Stout, the Dark Intrigue:
Okay, less excellent. Look, I get that they want to show that it's the same beer, only with bourbon barrel aging, but this is a bit lazy design-wise. Not that Victory is the only brewery guilty of the "let's just add a barrel to the label art" school of thought. First off, putting a beer in a bourbon barrel changes the flavor enough that it is a different beer. Don't believe me? Try Weyerbacher's Blithering Idiot and then try their Insanity. Same beer out of the fermenter, very different by the time you get it, and so very different artwork is justified. If you really think it's not that different, then go the route of breweries like Founders and just add "Kentucky" or "Bourbon" to the name and add a stamp or change the color of the label. But if the beer is different enough to change the name, then change its visual identity as well by doing more than adding a barrel outline.

Okay, last one is Troegs Perpetual IPA, via Jack Curtin:
And it's typically excellent design by Troegs. Bright colors, weird green tendrils, a pinch of Rube Goldberg to suggest all of the weird work going into the beer, and one gets a nice label. Although those gears remind me a little of the new Dogfish stuff:
Maybe next year will be the year Steampunk design takes over craft beer. I'm thirsty and geeking out just thinking about it.

Til tomorrow...

December 29, 2010

Sleek and Modern Design (and Sans Serif Font) in Beer Labels

Here's a little hodgepodge of some examples of modern design, all of which fits into the overused descriptor of "sleek." My working definition for that is a focus on simple, often text-based, minimalist elements that connote contemporary, rather than historic, aesthetics.

From Scott Saunders' Design 7 Studio, a cider label for Ad Astra Farm.
The key elements here are a nice, bright color scheme for the font on the soft dark blue background. Notice sans serif fonts (that's Latin for "without serif," and means the font doesn't have little strokes at the ends. It's almost a necessity for sleekness), and the cobalt blue bottle that brings out the label work. The border has a dual function of framing the label and setting the art off from the bottle.

Fifty Fifty's Eclipse Stout:
So if it's called "Eclipse," we're either getting lots of black or vampires. In this case, obviously, we get black. The sans serif text is in white and purple (which the dark color you can use with black), with the little Fifty-Fifty logo being the lone bright spot. Cool photo shoot for the bottle, too, to really stage the black bottle.

Lastly, the Atlanta Brewing/Red Brick Long John Ale:
Lots of sans serif (again) font and text on a plain red background. The challenge here is in using text as a design element, and in creating distinct areas and shapes with blocks of letters. They do that well, using a combination of inversion and framing (Red Brick in red at the top), different font types and sizes, and clever layout (the drop text "Ale" for example), creating a dynamic visual field without lots of color or art.

Here's the brewer talking about the packaging overhaul:
Atlanta Brewing Company from 22squared on Vimeo.

It's the end of the year, so some congratulations are in order:

December 28, 2010

Jackie O's Bourbon Barrel Beer Label Design

I'm a little surprised that all the years I lived in Pittsburgh I never heard about Jackie O's Pub and Brewery in Athens, OH. Thanks to the work of the ever-vigilant beersage, I now know about them, and I'm pretty impressed by the art, which tends to display strong line drawing skill. Let's look at a bunch of art from their bourbon barrel-aged beer.
The Dark Apparition label is nice white-on-black with a little bit of a yellow-orange thrown in for traditional Halloween coloring. The one problem I have with at least this image of the label is the black-on-dark-gray thing, which just looks weird.
The Oil of Aphrodite is similarly line-driven, but obviously much more intricate and colorful. The perspective with the satyrs and the little temple isn't perfect, but the foreground Aphrodite image is well-drawn. The use of differing shades of orange is a nice way to indicate layers at different distances.
The Matriarch is a double IPA. We've had discussions before about femininity in craft beer design (or the lack thereof), so the use of pink and flowers and swirls is a pleasant surprise, particularly for a DIPA aged in bourbon barrels. I don't recognize the font, but I actually like it, even though it's vaguely Impact-like.

Nex is the Cellar Cuvee, the art for which which has versions in different colors
Simple pen-and-ink line and shading. It's a nice old-timey look at a cellar, and they use the barrels fairly well to demonstrate perspective, with the possible exception of the little one in the center that looks a touch out of place.
Lastly, the Sweet Chocolate Love label uses a couple of brown upside-down hearts (which suggest Hershey kisses but don't look enough like them to be an infringement of intellectual property). The backdrop is a map of Ireland with the traditional harp, I think maybe because it started as an Irish stout before being banished to sit with Belgian chocolate in a bourbon barrel for a while. They do a good job here, as with their other labels, of getting depth out of shades of one color.

Some links:

December 26, 2010

Logos of New Seattle Area Breweries

Hope everyone out there had a good Christmas. And yes, I know that not everyone is Christian (I, for example, am not), but it's a secular holiday by now, and the vast majority of people at least use the holiday as time with the family, or to at least see a movie.

Speaking of movies, for those interested, Jay Brooks' recording of Ken Grossman telling the Sierra Nevada Story is up on Youtube in 8 parts.

So, inspired by this post a few months ago, I wanted to take a look at one region's new breweries, and how each of them approached the logo design challenge. Remember that the hallmark of a great logo is versatility, simplicity and recognizability.

First, Valholl Brewing, from Poulsbo, WA:

Fairly straightforward Norse God (side note: Josh at Brews and Books has said that "Vikings are the new vampires," so I'm hopeful that Twilight and Vampire Diaries will be replaced by things like Northern Lights and Pillaging Sagas). The scar over the eye indicates Woden/Odin. Probably not too many Viking breweries in the NW, so it's easily identifiable and round so it's probably fairly versatile. The best thing is that the designer resisted the temptation to make this more complex than it needed to be.

Quincy, WA's Ancient Lakes Brewing Company:
Hopefully a Web site design is in their 2011 plans, but the logo is not bad. We'll forgive the use of Papyrus font because the skeleton of the fish or Trilobite (trivia: my favorite dinosaur as a young Curator) manages to be adorable despite being gravel-colored bones. The curvature makes it particularly interesting. If they get rid of the text circle, I'd really love this.

Bellevue Brewing Company:
It looks a little too much like the horrible new iTunes logo for my taste, but I like the use of the hops coming from the vine off of the p. I would have actually made the vines come from each end (off the Y and the B) for balance, but it's simple and adds some interest right now.  The marbling in the text looks a little fake. I worry about black-on-gray as far as versatility, but I think that background circle can be adjusted (or better, eliminated) to make it work.

Seattle's Emerald City:

Nice wordmark. One instantly understands that we'll be seeing some 1940s and '50s throwback design (appropriate, given the movie Wizard of Oz came out in 1939), and that's precisely what the site plays on. Strong, identifiable, simple, and replicable. A good reminder that text is often more than enough for a logo.

Icicle Brewing Company, in Leavenworth, WA, currently under construction:

One thing we've seen a lot of is the use of a circle as a logo framing element. It's not that it's bad, but when there are half a dozen new ones in the Seattle region alone, one starts to wonder how recognizable it will be. I think too many breweries are scared of having a logo with irregular edges, and I don't think that fear is justified. Of course, adding a border to your circular coaster or whatever is necessary, but many times the use of a border circle just weakens the logo. Here, after 5 minutes of Photoshop:

So you can see the faint outline of where the circle used to be, but isn't that a stronger look? Same bold black-and-white look with ice and mountains and diagonal manliness, but without that generic circle. The only downside is it looks like it could be a snowboard company (or something else sporty but unrelated to beer), but I think that's okay if done right. One wonders if Starbucks/Seattle's Best have something to do with this bias.

Lastly, here's the North Sound Logo Work from the page of their designers, Westward Design:
I like the use of fermenters as the framing element, because it actually does something none of these others do, which is inform us that the place makes beer. But there's some work to be done on the font front, because I don't think the drop shadow around NSB is bringing the lettering out enough. Also, the slight italicizing of the font below that doesn't really do enough to energize the logo.

So that was a lot of logos, but we can take away a few things:
  1. Lots of breweries use circles, some unnecessarily
  2. Not many breweries use beer-related forms in their logos
  3. Text can be either a great element or an unfortunate one, so choose font wisely

December 24, 2010

The Wide Range of Cantillon Labels.

Hope you all are enjoying Christmas Eve with good food and good beer. Just a quick post today:

Here's some not-particularly-new design by Belgian titan of craft beer, Cantillon:
There are two things I find very funny about this label: 1) What is that flower doing on the right there? 2) If we're standing on the moon, as we appear to be, then is the Apricot in place of Earth, or just a heretofore undiscovered satellite of the moon? Or is it just a deliciously juicy comet-like body passing by?
From the brewery:
Last season, we have made a Lambic in which elder flowers underwent a cold maceration. This Zwanze 2009 was really different from a Lambic made with fruits. This is why I have decided to make it again this year. As I couldn’t call it Zwanze again, however, I had to find an other name. It will be “Mamouche” in honour of our mother, Claude Cantillon. As a matter of fact, this is the name which is given to her by her grand-children. By the way, these grand-children call our father, Jean-Pierre Van Roy “Lou Pepe, after the beers of the same name.”
What did the Zwanze look like?
From the near-omniscient Beersage:
wrote the other day that the beer formerly known as Cantillon Zwanze would be re-packaged as CantillonMamouche and shipped over to the U.S. One problem. The name change does not apply to the U.S. No wonder Shelton Brothers’ rep, Christian Gregory made no reference to the name, “Mamouche!” Apparently, the name change only applies to the 2009 version according to a few folks. In any case, expect to find Zwanze 2010 on shelves in limited quantities at some point.
Just for our purposes: It must be some beer if it can be accurately depicted by fluffy white flowers and by a sign that was hanging in Fred Flintstone's mancave. The lesson: When you're Cantillon, you can get away with these things.

Lastly, the new De La Senne-Cantillon blend:
Uhm. I guess they were trying to cut costs? Or is this a cleverly minimalist design trying to convey the danger and complexity of flavor you are about to experience?

Look, I love Cantillon, and I generally love their design. But it's important to remember that rules are different for a sought-after imported brewery than they are for a new domestic startup looking to fight for shelf- and mind-space. Cantillon (or their importers, Shelton Brothers) can mess around sometimes because they've done such a good job building the brand to the point where they could shove anything on the label and it would sell.

Even then, I find the sense of humor and perspective these decisions display to be refreshing and charming. It's tough not to like Cantillon.

December 23, 2010

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery's Retro Aviation

Blogging, whatever some might think of it, is like many avocations in that it becomes difficult to do it with the consistency you hope. Two weeks ago, I had a great system, a ton of posts scheduled, and absolute confidence that I would have tons of December posts to finish the year strong. Then my car died, work heated up, I got sick, and 13 days quickly and I haven't written squat or even gotten on social media for more than a minute. That's life, I suppose.

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery in Redlands, California, is named for the airport to which it is adjacent, so the airplane theme was probably a gimme for their designer. The clean nostalgia of their retro theme was not.

First, the logo:

Simple and clean, if nothing to write home about. The barley grains are a nice subtle element that make the logo resemble pilot wings. The marbling effect of the logo gives us a hint that this is going to be a throwback type of design. As we'll see in their labels and six-pack holders, the sepia toning and deco simplicity only add to this.
The alt bier keeps everything very earthy. The color and the propeller airplane, rendered in layered two-dimensional simplicity, evoke a feeling. There's also some nice work here compositionally, using the vertical of the lamppost and the diagonal of the plane to draw the eye up from the denser bottom of the work.
The orange wheat is (spoiler alert) orange, with a nice couple shades of green used as a complement. Again good composition, this time with the vertical element being the orange tree on the left. The one criticism is that the mountains blend into the weirdly two-toned sky, but it's pretty minor given the strength of the design overall.

The pale ale is the most simple design, with a central plane splitting a couple clouds over a mountain range and  a radiating sun (a motif that is used in many breweries' art, from Midnight Sun to Victory Brewing). In this case, the artistic decision is to tilt the plane, adding some movement to what would otherwise be a very static and boring look. Instead, it conveys the  feeling of serenity and majesty of flying into the sunset.

A few things to check out if you've got the time this holiday season.

December 10, 2010

Three (Relatively) New Labels by Lost Abbey

Lost Abbey has given us some things to write about lately, but I thought it might be okay to actually look at their art for arts' sake, rather than a potential controversy. Though, given Tomme Arthur's brewery's tongue-in-cheek relationship to religion, I suppose any of the art runs the risk of offending someone, somewhere.

The Lost Abbey artist is muralist Sean Dominguez. This is his painting work for the Deliverance:
From the press release:
Sean Dominguez worked overtime on the painting for this label. It is perhaps one of the darkest and most disturbing things he has painted for us. So demented in fact his wife Paige expelled it from their home the moment it was completed.
I don't know that I'd call it "demented," though I can understand not wanting it in your living room. A little Bosch for most beer labels, especially since the angels carrying the guy away from hell don't seem particularly nice. The color contrast of the little blue patch of sky with the largely red and dark, threatening foreground gives it the eerie look.

Next, let's look at the Cuvee de Tomme. First, the art on the wall, then the label:
The melting clocks are an obvious homage to Salvador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory." It's paired with an hourglass of cherries (with which the beer is brewed) and barrels (in which the beer is aged). The label art makes clear that this is a beer with quite a relationship to time. The bright sky both brings out the depth of the barrels and makes the label significantly more welcoming than, say, the Deliverance label.

Finally, we'll look at the Amazing Grace Ale:
This appears to be a version of the common "St. Jerome in His Study." Closest one I can think of is the etching by Albrecht Durer:
The 4th Century Saint Jerome was responsible for translating the Vulgate, or Latin Bible, and so is usually depicted working hard over a desk. In this case, the image retains the soft blurriness to show candlelight, and he's got a nice glass of beer to help him translate. I kind of like that the Lost Abbey version of amazing grace is not a massive glowing epiphany, but quiet work done late at night. Shows you a little bit what they Arthur and others might think of brewing as an art; that true revelation comes about through hard work, rather than sudden strokes of divine inspiration.

I think Dominguez is one of the best artists working in the craft beer industry, but Lost Abbey's art is some of the hardest to find online. They have good high-res images of the bottles themselves, but the art is not always easy to come by. Which is why I was very pleased when brewery spokesman Sage Osterfeld told me in an email that they're putting together a comprehensive art gallery for those - like me - who want to see more of the very fruitful Lost Abbey-Sean Dominguez partnership.

December 9, 2010

Creepiness in Label Art by Upland, Lucky Bucket, Pretty Things and Dogfish Head

I know I already did a slew of creepy label art for Halloween, but as I work through a backlog of stuff from the fall, I keep coming across labels that use creepiness well.

So first, the Upland Brewing Company Teddy Bear Kisses.
The font you probably recognize from the Godfather. I don't really understand why the Teddy bear is sitting alone in a dark room so far from the door, or for what his "kisses" might be a euphemism, but I'm a little scared of both. It's a little cute, and a little terrifying, but artistically a nice example of how to create ethos with very little content and a lot of negative space.

Another eerie piece from Upland:
The eerie feeling here comes from the hazy appearance.

And, since we're looking at Upland pieces, here's their piece from artist Norton Wisdom:
There is a whole motif of scantily clad devil babes in beer art that is surprisingly more common than one might think. This is by far the most interesting and evocative of those pieces.
You may recall the large mess of the Red Commie-Grim Reaper-Airplanes label we looked at some time back. Well I'm pleased to announce that one of the collaborators, Lucky Bucket Brewing Co., has a better label for a possibly related evil beer:
Much, much nicer. And, I think, more foreboding. I can't tell if this beer is related to the Collaborative Evil label art we saw before, but it's hard to picture the designers at Archrival, Lucky Bucket's firm, being involved in that mess. As a Steelers fan, I appreciate any black and gold scheme. The use of the stenciled typeface with lettering behind it adds a threatening character underlined by the small skull in the center.

Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project is one of my favorite design breweries, and part of why is the Paquettes' ability to dial into the style that we see in old British medieval art.
In this case, the entwining brambles emphasize the bitterness. That coupled with the early style that now strikes us as vaguely unsettling makes the piece a fit for the creepiness post. Here's what I'm talking about with the tapestry influence, by the way:
This is from the Bayeaux tapestry (ca. 11th century). See how the curves of the trees look just like the brambles? Is that just me?

Onto the last label. If Three Floyds is involved, skulls are likely to be found:
This is a collaboration with Dogfish Head, which lends their softer, more painterly style to the punk-influenced Three Floyds. What results is a rather realistic grinning skull, made creepier by its lack of cartoonish character and its distorted shape. The punk and ska comes through also in the typeface.

A few links, none of which are particularly creepy: